21. Mirroring Emotions

Hello, my beautiful diva friends! 

We are in the final countdown for the wedding.  We go meet with the venue today to sort out all the final details and the house looks like it was hit by a wedding bomb.  So we are feeling a full range of emotions here and I thought it would fun to talk to you about mirroring emotions and how to not mirror when it’s not serving you.

Have you ever had a day where your spouse comes home grumpy from work, or one of your kids come home from school grumpy and you respond to their grumpiness by being grumpy yourself?  Spouse either snaps at the kids, or you, and you snap back with, “why are you being so grumpy? What’s your problem?”  Or you ignore them because you’re tired of hearing all the complaining?  And when they ask what’s wrong, you snap with, “You’re always complaining!  I’m so tired of it!”  And you end up complaining to them about their complaining?

It’s a natural human tendency to mirror other people’s emotions.  We get angry at people who are angry with us or we worry for our kids who are worried.  It doesn’t happen all the time, however it’s very common. 

We can mirror other people’s behaviors, speech patterns, and emotions.  We can mirror people’s behaviors like the way they stand, how they walk or make physical gestures.  We can mirror their speech patterns by using trendy words or copying accents.  In fact, my son is really into watching Dr Who and after hearing it in the background for a while, I begin to here myself talking in a British accent in my head.  We all take on these patterns at different speeds, but it’s pretty wild to experience how fast it happens.

 Huh, in fact, years ago, I never used the word ‘wild’ in my speech.  I’d typically say crazy.  But my husband says wild all the time when he’s talking about something being crazy so I hear it all the time. So there you go. For me, it’s pretty wild to experience how fast it happens.

We can also mirror other people’s emotions, like being angry at someone who’s angry at you.  And most of this we do unconsciously.  Scientists have found that specific neurons in the brain fire when we are mirroring someone.  It starts as infants and they think it helps us as babies feel a deeper sense of empathy for others and, as we grow, it helps in learning new skills by imitation.  The brain fires mirroring neurons because it knows that that’s what helps us build rapport with others and create a greater connection with them.  In fact, there’s a book called The Like Switch, written by a former FBI agent who talks about how the technique of mirroring is a practice commonly used in trying to gain a rapport with, and eventually sway, agents from other countries into becoming a double agent for us.

Mirroring naturally occurs because of our need to fit in and be accepted as a part of the tribe. It is the human condition to connect with others and we connect easier to those who act like us and believe the same as us.  So we do a lot of mirroring without even realizing it.

Like when we hear other people judging someone and we proceed to judge them for being so judgmental?  I’ve totally caught myself doing that.  In fact, just a couple weeks ago I overheard my daughters and some of their friends talking and I totally caught myself judging them for judging their friends.  Isn’t it funny how we do that!

We mirror negative emotions, but we also mirror positive emotions.  For example, if I’m at a social event and I’m talking with someone who’s personality is fun and exciting, it’s normal for me to feel positive energy, like happiness and joy, and think that the event is fun and exciting. 

Understanding that we have a tendency to mirror emotions allows us space to decide if we like how we’re feeling and if we want to change it or not.   We may not always want to change how we feel.  If we’re mirroring someone’s happy vibes, let’s not give that up.  What’s interesting though is that it’s much easier to mirror negative emotions then positive ones.  Negative emotions will always mirror negative emotions.  However, someone else’s excitement and happy emotions, may not always mirror excitement.  Let me give you an example.  Last year my husband and I went to Kauai and it was so much fun and so relaxing and I loved it so much.  And if the opportunity presented, I’d totally buy a condo there so we could live there at least a couple months out of the year. Now, when I hear someone else say they are going on vacation to Kauai I could either be really excited for them because I know how much fun they’re going to have, or maybe my brain would offer me thoughts that I’m totally missing out, good old FOMO, and then maybe I’d be jealous because they get to go and I don’t.  So positive emotions can be harder to mirror because our brains are always on the look out for, “what am I missing out on?” And if I don’t stay conscious of this, I might not act in a way that I’d like.

Because it is human instinct to mirror people and their emotions, it totally makes sense why we would  think we have control over other people’s emotions and they have control over ours.  And when we’re feeling negatively, it’s super easy to blame other people for the way we’re feeling, isn’t it?

However, if you’ve been listening to my podcast for a while, you’ll know that it’s not other people who control our emotions, right? Are you still with me? 

Have you heard the sayings, “happy wife, happy life.” And “ain’t no one‘s happy if mama ain’t happy”?  I’m guessing those sayings come from our tendency to mirror emotions. And if we didn’t know better, we’d totally believe it.  Now not to discount the fact that when momma’s not happy, managing our emotions are far more challenging because we have to be so conscious of how we’re feeling and function from a much higher mental capacity. And when momma’s not happy, the kids, who by the way are great at unconsciously mirroring, become grumpy too and then it’s super easy to get trapped in the grumpy-go-round.  But what if husband comes home and notices what’s going on and doesn’t want to be grumpy?  What if he decides to change the game up?  Or at the very least, decide he’s not going to jump on the ride.  Is it possible?  Totally! 

And I’m not saying that we want to get rid of all the negative emotion either.  Like when our children are sad, we may want to be sad with them for a while.  It doesn’t mean we have to feel the same sadness as them or stay sad for as long as they are sad.  But for a while, be sad with them.  For example, when my daughter was about eight years old, she was struggling with some friends at school. She had a deep love for animals and one day we had a little dog show up on the back steps of our house. He showed signs of being abandoned so we decided to adopt him and he became our new family pet, but really we adopted him for her.  We were hoping this little companion would cheer her up and it did. And he was such a good little dog. Unfortunately, a couple years later he started building up fluid in his lungs and eventually had to be put down. We took him to the vet, knowing we didn’t want him to suffer more, we said our goodbyes and we cried and cried together. My heart just ached for her because I could see how sad she was. I would miss the dog too, but it was more my mamma bear heart aching for her being in so much pain.  So sometimes we will want to be sad and share emotions with ones we love.

However, we don’t always have to share emotions.  Especially ones that aren’t useful. Some clients think that if they don’t share in the emotion, they aren’t being there for them.  You can still be there for them and not feel what they are feeling.  Worry is a common feeling that we like to share.  Our brains think that worrying is useful.  It thinks that if I worry enough, then I’ll figure out this problem I’m having.  The irony of it is worry comes from the same place as fight or flight.  When we’re in that mode, we aren’t using our logical brain.  So there won’t be any figuring out here.  You can’t worry your way out of any problem.

So, if you’re kids are worried about something and you worry because they are worried, can you show up as the mom you want to be for them?   If they are wanting you to help them through something, it’s totally optional to be calm and compassionate and level headed.  Not that we are trying to force them out of worry because we can’t, but they may start to mirror you.  If they don’t, you can still model for them a different option then worry.

So you get to decide if you want to mirror emotions or not. It’s just when you’re finding it’s not allowing you to show up how you want in life.  If you don’t like how you’re showing up, here’s how to take back your control.  First, notice that you’re mirroring.  Become consciously aware of it. I don’t think anyone wants to be at the effect of other people’s feelings and when we stop and think about it, we realize that the way we’re feeling is totally optional.

So when your spouse comes home grumpy or irritable and you notice yourself getting a little irritated, you can ask yourself, do I want to feel irritated?  We’re not saying spouse has to change.  We can allow our spouse to be grumpy or irritated and not feel irritated with them.  This is how you take back your power to feel how you feel without it being someone else’s fault.

And we want to make sure that we are noticing it with curiosity and not in a way to judge ourselves or to find something else wrong with us.   Remember, it’s a normal human behavior to mirror.  If it’s easier, try to notice what’s going on like you’re not even in the situation.  You can think of it like you’re watching yourself in one of your favorite sitcoms or movies.  It’s a story that’s happening outside of you.  Stepping back and noticing the emotion separates us enough to allow us to act and not be acted upon because we aren’t living at the effect of what someone else is feeling.

Just learning this concept can really help you separate the idea that other people have control over your emotions. It gives you complete control back in deciding how you want to feel and showing up how you want to show up. Now it doesn’t mean you’re going to do it perfectly and it doesn’t mean you can just switch it on and off but it’s so good to know that you ultimately have the power over how you want to feel.

If you’ve determined that you don’t want to be negative about someone’s negativity, you don’t want to be angry and at someone’s anger, or feel worried or stressed, or any other emotion that’s not helping you in the moment, empower yourself to let it go.  Realize that they are feeling that way, and that’s ok, but it’s not for me.  You can have compassion for them that they are feeling that way and still allow them to feel it and get through it in their own time. 

So be consciously aware that you’re mirroring and decide if it’s allowing you to show up as the person you want to be.  If not, distance yourself as though it’s happening to someone else so you can gain leverage over your emotions and get back into the adult brain.  Decide how you’d rather show up and what feeling you’d rather feel and practice that.

I hope this helps you move towards becoming the fabulous future self you’ve imagined.  Until next time, have a beautiful week!


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